by Darren Clarke, January 13, 2022
“Can I kick it? Yes you can!”
Follow me on this.
Every Tuesday in the winter I chuck my hockey equipment in the trunk of my car, slide my sticks between the two front seats and drive 20 minutes through the cold, darkened, byways of Niagara to the Meridian Center Arena in downtown St. Catharines. It’s hockey night. And that drive sets up the vibe for me entering a contest I want to be excellent in. A contest I want to score in. The music I select from my phone for that ride is essential in defining the weight, the bounce, the nimbleness of joy, the competitive zen, I will enter the arena with that night.
Look, it can be hockey, basketball, writing, it can be love, listening, talking, exercising. For the average person finding the higher state of consciousness where the joy comes easy, where the brain gets out of the way to let the feel take over, is maddeningly elusive. It seems impossible to keep that station dialled in. The static is always looking to overwhelm the clarity.
And getting to that sweet spot isn’t simply a matter of trying, it’s not just a matter of exertion or effort. Often the harder you try the quicker it slips away. It’s also not just a matter of how smart, how fast, how strong you are. It’s harder than that. For me, that state of grace is only available when I don’t desire it too much, when I am less about the result and more about grooving to the beats the universe is providing.
So I look to music. Music can get me there. Music can tame my intellect, music can cut through the static and stress, through imperfect words and abstract thoughts and find some damned waling on water grace. But what music?
Last season it was The Clean’s, Anything Can Happen and Snail Mail’s Thinning. Wonderfully ramshackle, joyous, odes to whimsy. But we know that finding magic kingdoms requires new tools and new perspectives over time. The same key doesn’t work forever. 2022 required something new.
For 2022 I needed a new key to unlocking my best self.
There’s divinity within because we come from the divine,
A force that’s not seen, but you feel it every time:
When the wind blows, and the world turns,
And the rain drops, and the baby cries,
And the bird flies, and the ground quake,
And the stars gleam.
The Remedy, A Tribe Called Quest
Driving to the arena, listening to Can I Kick It? ((and getting that immediate permission- YES YOU CAN!)) I wondered to myself on a few occasions- If you told these guys back when they were recording their first album, “You know middle aged white guys are really going to dig listening to this on their way to hockey games!” how would they respond?
I think they would totally get it.
This is after all a band with Q-Tip and Fife, friends since age five, at the core. This is a band that evolved their hip hop skills, sitting and rhyming, waiting to get on the court for pickup basketball games. This is a band that, as Questlove referenced in the excellent 2011 documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, who recognized the brilliance contained within their parents record collection and reimagined those grooves and beats of the past as the backdrop for their immediate passions. So, yeah, they would get a guy listening to their tunes on his way to hockey, they would get somebody listening to it while baking a cake, walking a dog- wherever and whenever. They built their music on the basics, that transcend colour, time, circumstance. It’s all about friendship, only the best beats and love. As they say in Can I Kick It, “This rhythm really fits like a snug glove, like a box of positives is a plus, love.”
So, this is where I was going. Whoever you are, whatever you are doing, I’ve got some music to make you not only feel better but be better, “A rhythm recipe that you’ll savour/Doesn’t matter if you’re minor or major/Yes, the Tribe of the game, rhythm player/As you inhale like a breath of fresh air.”
And I know this playlist is way longer than 90 minutes but come on now, People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, has to be here, in full, in order. You can’t break that perfect Tribe up. After all, arbitrary designs should always fall before higher truths.